Mental health awareness may be higher than ever due to the rise of high profile deaths in the industry, but is this translating to better overall statistics around mental health and a healthier more supportive music industry?

The Stats

In Australia, it is reported that approximately 45% of the population will experience some kind of mental health condition in their lifetime. Combine this with being a creative, endlessly touring and struggling to make a sustainable living off your music, these statistics climb even higher. A recent Australian study by Victoria University found that your average musician earns around $ 30, 000 less per year than the average Australian salary.

It was also found by a Swedish study conducted by Record Union earlier this year that 73% of musicians report suffering from various mental health issues. The study also concluded that 33% percent have experienced panic attacks and only 19% feel that the music industry is providing healthy working conditions.

The study detailed that the main concerns for people suffering from poor mental health were around financial instability, the pressure to succeed and loneliness with fear of failure topping the list of concerns.

So in exploration of this topic, Australian Music Week put together a panel on Mental Health to talk about these issues featuring Louise Sawilejskij (Support Act, Nala Music), Nathan Cavaleri (Musician), Mike Schwartz (Music Fit Collective), Andrew Leslie (Blooms Chemist) and Blair Norfolk (Activated Nutrients).

The Science 

Sharing some pretty amazing facts form a scientific point of view, Norfolk told the panel that there are studies that have proven your gut can affect your mood and in turn, your mental health. Overall physical health is often discounted when it comes to influencing mental health, particularly by touring musicians where it may fall low on the priority list.

Norfolk also told the panel that there have been large clinical trials where they have learnt that the gut affects the brain via a wandering cranial nerve nicknamed the “Vagus nerve”. You can affect this nerve and stimulate it by humming or singing for a few minutes a day.

Amazingly, what the results of stimulating this nerve have shown is an increased release of serotonin. Blair also noted that 90% of serotonin is produced in your gut and it also hosts 70% of the cells that make up your immune system.

There is also something to be said for the cumulative effects that both good and poor mental health have on a person’s future health. In fact, one Harvard study found that of all the participants surveyed over the 80 year period it’s been running, those that were happiest at 50 were the healthiest at 80.

The Tools & Habits

When it comes to caring for yourself and your mental health, there were a number of suggestions the panel noted that make a significant difference if you put them into practice. It ranged from going and listening to a gig that you haven’t organised to exercise, sleep and a good diet.

It was noted that while these are all pretty simplistic things, if you form a routine that takes these into account, the countless studies confirm that these small, repetitive, activities do make an impact on improving your health.

Sawilejskij also added that although it is a challenge for artists on tour, establishing a routine, eating at the right times and getting as much rest as you can will affect how you pull up at the end of your shows.

Cavaleri bravely shared with the panel that he has often struggled to balance all of these things as a touring musician “I disrespected sleep for so long and I underestimated the effect It has on your mind.”

Expanding on this point, Cavaleri also expressed that his imagination has also played a big part in his poor mental health at times; “You’re up in your head all the time and you’re thinking, so therefore when you’re walking around you’re often experiencing everything with this dialogue in your head. So when that dialogue is not healthy, it doesn’t feel like a good place anymore.”

To counteract this , Cavaleri told the panel he makes a point of taking the time to do things that get him out of his head like exercising and spending time with his family as well as implementing techniques into his work routine “when I’m in the studio I have a timer that goes off every few hours where I get up and go for a walk and stretch and get out of my own head.”

Cavaleri also noted that sometimes “all you need is a conversation with someone that been through what you’re going through and to ask them how they came out the other side.”

Blair Norfolk pointed out that the amount of screen time that we’re all clocking is having a severe effect on our mental health. Norfolk suggested that to combat the negative effects of technology you should designate time where you disconnect from it and have real moments with the people you love.

Andrew Leslie talked about the importance of routine and that goal setting and reviewing through a life compass has proven effective when it comes to feeling on top of things for him.

The panel discussed that they all have personal mentors and that having someone there that you can ask for help is a great tool. Adding to this, Sawilejskij noted that “for managers, you are expected to be the stable person for your artist and a lot of the time you’re working alone or you’re the head of your team.” Sawilejskij also put forward that having other managers around to connect with and work through the tough moments in her career with really changed her life.

As creatives, it was noted by Schwartz that in this industry, we tend to take on a lot more than the typical 9-5 role entails.  So while the odd jobs outside your description may feel like nothing at the time, before you know it, can really get away from you; “you’re putting out a whole bunch of little fires that on their own might be fine but together those micro stresses take a toll.”

Resources

When it comes to help, the panel wanted to stress that there are many resources available, both within the music industry and in general designed to prevent and improve mental health issues.

The 24/7 Support Act hotline (1800 959 500) is available for people who have not just mental health issues but have concerns about things like their career or feelings of loneliness.

Every Australian citizen is also entitled to 12 free federally funded psychology appointments through a mental healthcare plan.

As far as helping and supporting each other, Sawilejskij suggested that checking in with people you know are really struggling daily is so helpful for the people that are going through the worst of it, as it gives them something to depend on.

Keeping an eye out for signs that something is wrong including forgetting things, being late and avoiding tasks is also massively important in picking up issues early. Sawilejskij also noted that in her experience managing artists, just sitting with people and encouraging dialogue can make all the difference.

Nathan Caveliri also has a series of Q&A articles on his website that he’s done with high profile artists around how they navigate and care for their mental health in the industry which is worth checking out for any touring musician unsure of how to balance it all.

Mike Schwartz’s company put together a survey for music industry workers designed to help assess where you’re at mentally which you can find at wearemusicfit.com

If you or anyone you know is experiencing mental health issues, you can find more information about seeking help here